How The Arc Shaped My Life

Congratulations to The Arc of Indiana on 60 years!

Reading the history of The Arc in Indiana led me to reflect on my own relationship with The Arc, and how it has shaped my life.

I grew up in the fifties and sixties in West Virginia, like most people in our country, I had little understanding of individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. There were no special education classes in my elementary school. There were some “slow” children in my classes. Some were teased; others were treated as one of the gang. It’s only looking back that I recognize their intellectual disabilities. Of the man in the neighborhood who lived with his “spinster” sisters and was so friendly to everyone, some parents said, “Stay away from him. He doesn’t know his own strength.” There were labels used by the ignorant, “half-wit” was one of the nicer ones.

In my early teens, I read a novel, One of the Family, by Catherine Fowler Magee, written for young adults. It told the story of a young woman whose brother was born with Down syndrome, still called mongolism in those days, and the prejudice experienced by her family when they chose not to put him in an institution. The young woman and her parents, become advocates for individuals with I/DD. Little did I know that the book mirrored the early grass-roots organization of the parents taking place at that time.

Because of the influence of that novel, I stepped out of my comfort zone and volunteered at a local Arc day camp. My life changed! Several of the teens kept in contact throughout the next years, being active with The Arc and forming Youth Arcs in the county.  I served as president, as well as most other offices, throughout high school. The Youth Arc sponsored dances at the local workshop and a weekly “parents’ night out.” We held many bake sales. Youth Arc became my social life. I met my first boyfriend there and had my first kiss at a State Youth Arc convention!

After high school I attended Marshall University where I received a special education degree. At the time a specialization in “Mental Retardation” was the only choice of degree in special education. From college, I was hired to teach special ed. in Australia.

My life’s path then took my around the world, exploring India, trekking in Nepal, and traveling in Africa and Europe. I eventually landed in Indiana where I was hired to teach at New Hope, in Indianapolis. It was there, I met my husband who was also employed by New Hope.

Now we live in Brown County, Indiana where our three children have grown up. I am a Waiver Case Manager, employed by IPMG, and my husband has continued to work in a variety of human services positions.

I’m amazed as I look back to see the progress that has been made in public policy, understanding, and acceptance of the individuals The Arc serves. Yes, there is a long way to go, but The Arc continues to lead the way. The Erskine Green Training Institute is a dream come true. Again, I offer my congratulations, and thanks.

Miriam Stant